How to Repair Water Damage to a Lacquer Finish

Written by chyrene pendleton
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How to Repair Water Damage to a Lacquer Finish
Use a 2- or 2 1/2-inch paintbrush to apply lacquer thinner. (Kick Images/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Furniture finishes consist mostly of varnish, shellac or lacquer. Lacquer came into use during the early 1900s, becoming the most common finish for furniture by the 1950s. Discover your furniture finish by cleaning a hidden area with white spirit on a rag. Use lacquer thinner on this spot--if the finish dissolves, you probably have a lacquer finish. If your rag receives a brown stain, you have a shellac finish. Repairing water damage on lacquer finishes, which looks like a cracked, ridged surface, can be accomplished in just a few hours.

Skill level:

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Things you need

  • Lacquer thinner
  • Open-mouthed jar
  • 2- or 2 1/2-inch China bristle brush
  • #0000 steel wool
  • Tackcloth
  • 1.36kg. aerosol lacquer
  • Furniture paste wax
  • Soft rag

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  1. 1

    Pour lacquer thinner into an open-mouthed jar. You should be able to fit a 2- or 2 1/2-inch paintbrush inside the jar. Pour more lacquer thinner into the jar if needed.

  2. 2

    Place the furniture piece horizontal and flat, with the damaged side facing up. Keep the piece flat to avoid having the lacquer thinner run.

  3. 3

    Apply the lacquer thinner with the bristle paintbrush, brushing lightly in the direction of the wood grain. Work slowly with one section of the furniture surface at a time, so the thinner has time to work. Carefully watch the finish, brushing on more coats of solvent until you see the finish soften and flow out.

  4. 4

    Move to another section of the furniture when you see the ridges and small cracks start to disappear as the solvent begins working. Let the finish dry.

  5. 5

    Repeat brushing on more lacquer thinner only if the surface still has cracks and ridges from damage. If you notice a smooth surface, rub the surface down thoroughly with a dry piece of #0000 steel wool. This steel wool grade gives your furniture surface a shine.

  6. 6

    Recoat the furniture piece with lacquer, rubbing the surface thoroughly with a tackcloth, which removes the steel wool residue.

  7. 7

    Open windows and doors in the room for ventilation, then spray a light coat of finishing lacquer from an aerosol can onto the furniture surface. Allow the surface to dry completely.

  8. 8

    Rub the furniture surface down well with furniture paste wax and #0000 steel wool, then buff the surface firmly with a soft rag.

Tips and warnings

  • Make your own tackcloth by soaking cheesecloth in water, wringing out the water, soaking the cloth in turpentine, wringing it out once more, then dripping clear varnish on the cheesecloth, so the cloth feels gummy. Keep your homemade tackcloth stored in a jar with a lid until ready to use.

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